The “O’Connor File” and the WPA

- This post was contributed by Kelsey Clark, intern at the Smithsonian AA/PG Library summer 2013. The Works Progress Administration (WPA) was created during the Great Depression as the largest and most ambitious New Deal agency, employing millions of people to carry out public works. This included artists, such as William Gropper, Marsden Hartley, Henry Varnum Poor, or Ben Shahn, who painted murals across the nation, from inside Coit Tower in San Francisco to the Harlem Hospital in New York City. The Smithsonian Libraries collection has books and archival material on the WPA projects, including a file on one man intimately connected to the government project: Dr. Francis V. O’Connor. During my internship, I was given the “O’Connor File” as a research project – a box filled with files containing published articles and books he had written, archival notes, and letter correspondence between the former Librarians at the National Portrait Gallery and various patrons concerning the rights to read some mysterious “questionnaires” that were somehow connected to O’Connor and the WPA. What were more »

Downtown Progress, 1960-1977

August 16, 2013

  This post was contributed by Kaitlyn Tanis, intern at the American Art and Portrait Gallery Library. Walking around downtown Washington, D.C. (located between the Capitol and the White House) is always a sight to behold. Between the grand marble buildings, the throngs of tourists, museums, and the vast number of restaurants, downtown D.C. represents the diversity and beauty of the city. However, the area was not always a thriving tourist destination.  Pre- more »

The Riots at New York

This post was written by Erin Friel, an intern at the American Art and Portrait Gallery Library, January-May 2013. Currently on display at the National Portrait Gallery (NPG) is the installation “Bound for Freedom’s Light: African Americans and the Civil War,” which showcases portraits of familiar figures such as Frederick Douglass and Sojourner Truth, as well as contemporary news illustrations of lesser-known events. Those who would like to learn more about some of the topics in the exhibit can find information in the excellent resources at the American Art Museum/National Portrait Gallery Library (AA/PG).

African American art and the Harmon Foundation

  When wealthy real estate developer William Elmer Harmon founded the Harmon Foundation in 1922, it originally supported causes as varied as playgrounds, biblical films and nursing programs. But it is better known today as one of the first major supporters of African American creativity and ingenuity.

Highlights from the Cultural Heritage Library: James Whistler

James Whistler was a Victorian dandy.  A staunch proponent of “art for art’s sake”, a prominent figure in Victorian society, and while born in America, he divided  his time between London and Paris. He advocated the decorative in art to such an extent, that his signature evolved into an apt symbol: the delicate, yet threatening, butterfly with a stinger.

Joseph Keppler and “Puck”

 This post was written by Elizabeth Brunner, an intern at the American Art and Portrait Gallery Library September-December 2012. Joseph Keppler was the predominant political cartoonist of the late nineteenth century. His creation of the magazine, Puck, in 1877 brought him into a national position that allowed him to influence people’s political views and opinions. The magazine featured cartoon and caricature lithographs created by Keppler. The National Portrait Gallery is fortunate enough to own a few of Keppler’s lithographs from the height of his fame during the early 1880s. However, as a bibliophile, I was far more excited to discover that the American Art and Portrait Gallery Library owns one of the 300 copies of a limited-edition book that features some of Keppler’s best lithographs. Published in 1893, this book served Puck as an advertising tool and as a way to promote Keppler’s lithographs and talent.

Yesterday’s World of Tomorrow: A Souvenir from the World’s Fair

This post was contributed by Rachel Blier, an intern for the American Art and Portrait Gallery Library from June to September 2012. One of my favorite parts of my time at the AA/PG library has been working with the rare books collection. Between the artists’ books, the unusual cartoons and caricatures in the Ray Smith collection, and the occasional doodle or signature from an artist, it’s a very exciting part of the library—and one that an ordinary visitor wouldn’t have the opportunity to see.

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